Mindful Eating

By Parul Kharod

Before we delve into the details of mindful eating, here is an interesting history behind the word “mindfulness." This term was coined in the 19th century by Thomas William Rhys Davids, who was a British Magistrate living in Ceylon (Sri Lanka), and studying Buddhism and the Pali language. He loosely translated the concept of Sati (awareness of things in relation to other things), and coined the famous word mindfulness. The word was popularized here in the US in the 1970s by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a molecular biologist living in New England and a longtime practitioner in the Zen Buddhist meditation tradition who wanted to spread the practice of meditation without its religious connotations.

He came upon the word “mindfulness" in the writings of Rhys Davids, and created a new definition for it - “The awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose in the present moment, and non-judgmentally." Since then the word, and the idea behind it, has blossomed into many forms of self-help and training for personal and workplace improvement.

This concept behind mindful living is extended to food and eating habits. The basic idea is to pay attention and be aware of when we eat, what we eat, where we eat, and how much we eat.

Mindful eating is defined as:

• Eating with awareness
• Being present for each sensation of the experience of eating
• Being aware of the chewing, tasting and swallowing of food, moment by moment

The five steps of mindful eating:

1. Being aware: tasting and enjoying your food instead of munching mindlessly
2. Savoring your food: paying attention to the aroma, flavor, and texture of the food
3. Observing if you are really hungry, how hungry, and how full your stomach is getting
4. Being present in the moment – eating without distraction of TV, phone, or other tech devices
5. Being nonjudgmental – not feeling guilty or having any negative feelings towards whatever you are eating

Easier said than done, right? However, there are some basic steps you can take to start practicing mindfulness towards your food and eating habits.

Here are a few rules:

1. Sit at a designated place and eat – Avoid standing and nibbling or eating in your car. When we pay attention and enjoy what we eat, we actually eat less. Think about how someone sitting in front of the TV can mindlessly finish off an entire bag of potato chips. That is mindless eating.
2. Chew your food well – do not gulp things down. It's not a race. It takes about 20 minutes for your stomach to tell your brain that it is full. If you finish your first helping in less time, you will be tempted to take a second serving without knowing whether you actually have room for it.
3. Enjoy what you eat. Take each bite with attention. Food is our fuel. It is supposed to nourish us. Have a positive relationship with food.
4. Out of sight, out of mind – keep junk food away. Research shows that people tend to eat what is within reach.
5. Take a deep breath. Smile. Have a nice conversation around the dining table.

Eating healthfully is about more than the food you put in your mouth, it's about your relationship with your food. How you think and feel about your eating habits can be as important as the food itself.

Here are some other tips on how to become a mindful eater:

• Eat when you are hungry, but before becoming ravenous. Stop eating when you are satisfied or gently full. Avoid eating to the point of feeling stuffed. Don't feel guilty when you eat a treat. Don't feel deprived and don't do diets that make you feel like you want to cheat.
• Choose foods that nourish your mind and body. Intuitively stay close to your core healthy eating habits, making nutritious choices that still appeal to your taste buds, but not afraid to splurge on special occasions.
• Don't give food power over you. No one food has the power to make or break your overall healthy eating habits. You don't engage in all-or-nothing thinking or make moral judgments about yourself in relation to food (“I was good today because I stuck to my diet" or “I was bad today because I had pizza and a cupcake").
• Don't get influenced by whatever latest fad diet or food is in fashion.
• Put some thought into planning and making nutritious meals but don't obsess about food.

Mindful eating is a step towards mindful living. Acknowledge the origins of food and the processes needed to have food for our meals. Eat each meal with mindfulness and gratitude. Make sustainable plant-based food choices for our health and the health of our planet. Let each meal nourish you so that you can continue to do good work and serve others


Parul Kharod, MS, RD, LDN is a registered dietitian and licensed nutritionist and works as a Clinical Dietitian with Outpatient Nutrition Services at WakeMed Hospital in Cary and Raleigh. She can be reached at parulkharod@gmail.com